It comes as a shock to some people to learn that chickens are omnivores!
Many folks think they just eat grass and feed, but nothing could be further from the truth.
While the bulk of their modern-day nutrition comes from prepared grain feed, they will eat all manner of foods. Chickens eat a wide variety of foods from grains and seeds, to leafy greens, bugs and the occasional mouse.
Treats such as mealworms, scrambled eggs, cat food, and leafy greens are always favorites.
With so much variety available you might be left wondering, what can chickens eat?
In this article we cover the ultimate list of what chickens can eat including: grapes, tomatoes, bananas and much more…
Contents and Quick Navigation
- What Do Chickens Eat
- What Can Chickens Eat
- What Can’t Chickens Eat?
- How Much Should You Feed Your Chickens?
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Do Chickens Eat
Like all living creatures, chickens need a wide variety of things to maintain their health. These things can be broken down into proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, trace elements and water.
If you have ever kept chickens before you will know that they eat pretty much anything!
Chickens love to snack on vegetables, fruits, small insects and just about anything else they can fit in their beak! However, some of the healthier snacks include:
- Ants and beetles.
- Grapes, bananas, strawberries and watermelon.
- Tomatoes, celery, potatoes, cucumbers and carrots.
- Flax Seeds, flowers and grass.
In the wild chickens would eat seeds, insects and the occasional small reptile.
But with backyard chickens, the majority of their diet is pellets.
What Can Chickens Eat
Our list of treats is quite extensive and covers the most popular treats for your chickens. However it is not exhaustive, so if you have something to give them and are unsure about it, follow the “if in doubt, do not” rule.
|Chickens Food List|
|Watermelon||Green beans||Bird seed|
Which Fruits Can Chickens Eat?
Fruits make a fantastic snack for chickens, especially during the hot summer months. The following fruits are all safe to feed to your chickens:
- Banana Peels
- Kiwi Skin
- Mango Skin
- Orange Peels
- Peach Skins
- Watermelon Rind
Can Chickens Eat:
Grapes: Yes. Chickens love grapes but you may have to halve them first. They are full of vitamins and make a good hot weather snack.
Bananas: Yes. Bananas are a firm favorite and they contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. You can also feed them banana peel.
Apples: Caution. Apple pips contain a small amount of cyanide, so ideally they should be removed first.
Pineapple: Yes. Pineapples are enjoyed by some but not others.
Strawberries: Yes. When I pick strawberries I always have a faithful following of chickens! Strawberries are a true favorite.
Oranges: Yes. However they are not a favorite. They can eat orange peels too but they are unlikely to eat it.
Watermelon: Yes. This is a favorite treat for those hot summer days.
Raisins: Yes. Chickens love raisins. Just feed them small amounts since they contain a lot of sugar.
Cantaloupe: Yes. Cantaloupe is especially good in the summer as a slushy for them to cool down.
Cherries: Yes. Cherries are a good source of nutrients but you should remove the pits first to avoid choking hazard.
Which Vegetables Can Chickens Eat?
Vegetables and greens are important for your chickens. Here is a list of safe veggies they can eat:
- Beet Greens
- Beet Leaves
- Bell Peppers
- Brussels Sprouts
- Collard Greens
- Cooked Beans
- Corn Husks
- Green Beans
- Green Onions
- Green Peppers
- Leafy Greens
- Mashed Potatoes
- Pea Pods
- Radish Greens
- Radish Leaves
- Sugar Snap Peas
Can Chickens Eat:
Tomatoes: Yes. Tomatoes should be ripe – green tomatoes should not be given to your flock.
Celery: Yes. Your chickens will eat celery but this is not a favorite. It will need to be cut into bite sized pieces.
Mushrooms: Caution. You can feed them mushrooms that are safe for humans. Wild or unknown mushrooms should never be fed to them.
Onions: Caution. In large amounts onions are toxic and they also taint the eggs.
Potatoes: Yes. Mashed, sweet and white potatoes are all good in small amounts.
Cucumbers: Yes. This is a great treat for hot summer months. They love the seeds and the cool moist flesh will help to keep them hydrated.
Carrots: Yes. They usually won’t peck at a whole carrot, but the peelings or small cooked pieces are good.
Avocado: Caution. Avocado pits and skins contain persin which is highly toxic to chickens. They can eat the flesh but it is not a favorite.
Which Snacks Can Chickens Eat?
Apart from fruits and vegetables there are still lots of other snacks which chickens can eat. Here is a list of safe snacks chickens can eat:
- Bee Balm
- Bird Seed
- Brown Rice
- Cat Food
- Chia Seeds
- Cooked Oatmeal
- Cottage Cheese
- Dog Food
- Dry Oatmeal
- Dry Rice
- Flax Seeds
- French Fries
- Ginger Root
- Hot Peppers
- Meat Scraps
- Peanut Butter
- Peanut Shells
- Rolled Oats
- Shrimp Shells
- Wild Violet
Can Chickens Eat:
Bread: Yes. Bread is not a great source of nutrition so it should only be given in moderation.
Rice: Yes. Brown rice is much healthier than white and it is a good source of dietary fiber. Beware of adding salt when cooking as this can be harmful to your chooks.
Popcorn: Caution. Popcorn has very little nutritional value and you should avoid salt and butter.
Chocolate: No. This contains caffeine and theobromine both of which are highly toxic to them.
Sunflower Seeds: Yes. Raw or cooked sunflower seeds are always popular and very good for them.
Oats: Yes. Oats are a great source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
Peanut Butter: Yes. Peanut butter is packed full of fats, carbs and protein and is good in small amounts.
Oatmeal: Yes. They love oatmeal, especially as a warm cooked mash on cold days.
Basil: Yes. This is a tasty and nutritious snack for them.
Eggs: Yes. Feeding eggs back to the ladies is a good way to cut down on excess eggs. Eggs are probably the most perfect food for them.
What Can’t Chickens Eat?
|What Can’t Chickens Eat?|
|Avocado||Baked Potatoes||Bean Sprouts|
|Pinto Beans||Popcorn||Potato Skins|
|Rhubarb Leaves||Tomato Plants||Yogurt|
Common Sense Guide To Chicken Snacks
Fat hens are looked at as a sign of a happy flock, but the sad truth is that obese hens are prone to more than their fair share of health issues. Things such as prolapsed vent and egg binding are much more common, as are heart disease, kidney and respiratory problems.
You should try to keep your chickens away from starchy, carbohydrate heavy foods. It is better to have no treats than carbs every night.
Also you will need to keep them away from moldy food, alcohol and chocolate.
Feeding treats during the summer months is easier since fresh produce is readily available.
Winter treats such as greens and fruits are more expensive and can be difficult to find. Do not feel compelled to give them a treat every night, once a week is enough. Things such as warm oatmeal with berries or chopped nuts will be happily consumed and will give them a warm boost on a cold winter morning.
How Much Should You Feed Your Chickens?
This section refers to feed only, not treats or extras.
Each chicken will eat roughly a 1/4lb (or ½ cup) of chicken feed per day.
Of course, there are a couple of variables such as the size of the chicken, and the season. However, in general, 1/4lb of feed per day is a good place to start.
Growing chickens will of course eat more food so they should have feed available at all times.
Bantams will eat smaller amounts than larger birds but may eat more frequently since they are usually high energy birds.
Some folks prefer to feed their flock twice a day to monitor their intake. Personally, I do not care for this as those weaker or more timid members of the flock may not get enough food because they feel intimidated by the bigger bully birds. The positive side of fixed feeding is that you get to see all of the flock interacting and can assess them easily.
Free feeding is my preference as all flock members can access the feed when and as they want. It also relieves you from being on the spot at certain times of the day. Read 5 Best Chicken Feeders: What To Know Before Buying to find a good feeder.
How Many Treats Should You Feed Them?
Nothing is guaranteed to get a bigger reaction from your flock than treats.
They love to root through whatever you have brought them and they will squabble over every mealworm, seed or tidbit like they have not eaten for a few days!
Although it is fun to give them treats you do need to make sure they have a balanced diet.
You should not give your hens more than 10% of their daily intake as treats.
As a good rule you should give them treats once a week or on special occasions. While they do love treats, they can survive without them although they will tell you otherwise!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can cracked corn and scratch be used as feed?
No, they cannot and should not be used as a substitute.
There is not enough protein in cracked corn and scratch to support active chickens.
Should I ferment chicken feed?
For a small flock fermenting their feed is an excellent choice as it helps unlock the hidden nutrition in grains.
Can I make my own chicken feed?
It is possible to make your own chicken feed but it is very time consuming. The easy part is putting together the grains, but the hard part is making sure all the necessary nutrients are included – things like methionine and trace elements.
Hopefully after reading this you now know what chickens can eat.
The basic feed that we give them enables them to be active and healthy. If we fed them nothing else, they would have adequate nutrition from their feed.
However, chickens like variety, so giving them a wide variety of things to snack on will keep them happy.
If your chickens can free range you will hear them murmuring to each other while they glean a variety of seeds, greens, bugs, worms and even the occasional unfortunate small mammal. This is not only a nutritional exercise but a very important social one too.
Hens like to gather together in groups and scour the land for tasty snacks – it is part of being a chicken! If your flock cannot free range, treats can help supply entertainment.
I put a large pile of leaves in the winter runs that they can kick and peck their way through. Often small insects can be found in these piles and as an added bonus, the chickens turn your leaves into compost by the springtime.
What is your chicken’s favorite snack? Let us know in the comments section below…